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Fresh Foods Signal a Fresh Start for New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward

I’m really looking forward to celebrating National Farmers Market Week. Farmers markets play a key role in developing food systems that help local grow economies. They bring people together, create bridges between rural and urban communities and increase access to locally-grown fruits and vegetables, providing healthier options for consumers across the country.

When Hurricane Katrina struck over a decade ago, New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward notoriously faced some of the worst devastation in our nations’ history. The floodwaters have long since subsided, but residents in this community are still struggling to rebuild the lives they knew before the storm.

A Greenhouse Garden Inspires an Urban New Orleans School

Tucked in the middle of a mixed commercial and residential area of New Orleans still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, is Carter G. Woodson Middle School − a state of the art public charter school known as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Central City Academy.

As I wandered through the garden taking pictures and preparing for guests to arrive for the Greenhouse Garden Club ribbon cutting ceremony, I was intrigued by the markers made by students identifying the plants in the beds and statements about working hard and respecting the garden. 

“Hello miss! Our teacher sent us out here to keep you company,” said seventh-grader Keyira Powell.  She was accompanied by another student, Clifton Desilva who mostly stood in silence while Keyira − clearly a school ambassador – eagerly began telling me about the gardening club.

Deputy Secretary Discusses Food Hubs, New Orleans Style

New Orleans is known for many special things, not the least of which is its food.

That’s why Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan chose the crescent city this week to release a new report on the importance of food hubs in America.  The report finds that there is an increasing demand for fresh, local foods and the popularity of food hubs is growing quickly.  In fact, there are well over 200 across the country now, including Hollygrove Farm and Market in downtown New Orleans.

Inspiring Recovery

Earlier this week, I traveled to New Orleans with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan to meet with the local farming and fishing community. What I saw at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation (MQVN) was inspirational.

Many Hands Tend the Food Safety Net

When a newspaper reporter asked me recently, “What can I tell our readers about the USDA programs,” I told her: “Most of what USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service does is through others.”

As I travel throughout the country, I see how different organizations come together to carry out our mission of putting food on the table for those in need. In concert with FNS’ 15 nutrition assistance programs, hundreds of organizations are working hard every day to create the safety net against hunger that protects Americans. Without fanfare and with little public notice, coalitions of non-profits, religious organizations and groups of volunteers are often the first line of defense against hunger.

Federal Nutrition Assistance Helps Food Banks Keep Up With Demand

Last month I spoke to food bank leaders at the Feeding America Central Region conference, which was held in Baton Rouge, La., and hosted by the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. Attendees came from over 20 states to strategize about meeting the challenges of these tough economic times. Feeding America’s food banks help supply thousands of food pantries and emergency food sites across the U.S. and are among the many charitable organizations working hard to figure out ways to deal with decreased donations and a higher demand for food.

I told the group that it’s important that they continue to get the word out to food bank clients that USDA nutrition assistance is available to folks who meet the eligibility standards. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women Infants and Children program (WIC) still provide critical aid to individuals and families that may experience food insecurity. I also reminded them to encourage parents in their communities to enroll their children in school lunch and breakfast. School meals help ease the burden on families to provide three meals a day to the children in their households.

Museum Recognizes Hunger in the South

I didn’t know there was a museum devoted to southern food until our regional administrator, Bill Ludwig, was notified that he had been selected to receive their inaugural Humanitarian Award for Public Service. The Southern Food & Beverage Museum is appropriately located in New Orleans, where food is definitely an art form!

When I asked museum president and director Liz Williams about the inspiration for the award, she said, “We wanted to create an award that reflects that public service and being a humanitarian can work hand in hand.  We wanted a person who had long service, who was doing good, and who was doing that good just because, and not to get recognition.  We considered others, but Bill rose to the top.”

Share Our Strength Kicks Off No Kid Hungry in New Orleans

I had the honor of participating in the kick-off of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign in New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 12.  I say it was an honor because of the importance of the project and the dedication and sincerity of the partners who have come together to make it happen.

Commemoration of 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

On Friday, August 27, 2010, I was in New Orleans to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation to the Gulf Coast.  The event was held at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana.  It was a hot and humid morning as we began the assembly of emergency food boxes alongside Archbishop Gregory Michael Aymond, food bank executive director Natalie Jayroe and other notable citizens of New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and federal officials.